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Although the root burl slabs are large, California Buckeye is actually a shrub or small tree. It grows only in the drier foothill regions of California and the fellow who sold me the slabs used to harvest the root burls with a bulldozer, shipping them cross country via boxcars.
The leaves emerge early and it is not unusual to see them covered with heavy wet snow. The flowers are a beautiful white to pale rose color and continue to bloom through June and into July when most everything else has wilted. It also sheds its foliage in mid summer thus adapting to the long dry foothill summers by entering dormancy early.
California Buckeye produces one pear-shaped fruit per cluster of flowers, which caused early settlers to call it the "California Pear." The shiny seed showing from the yellowish husk looks like the eye of a deer: hence, "buckeye." The raw seeds are poisonous to man and beast.
The nectar of the Buckeye's flowers is known to poison bees, and the California Indians ground up the seeds and poured them in pools in streams, harvesting the stupefied fish when they floated to the surface. The same Indians would also grind the nuts and leach them repeatedly with water. Once the toxicity was gone, they cooked and ate the nutritious meal.
I could only find info on the Ohio and Yellow Buckeye in my wood books. However, like Ohio buckeye, the sapwood of the California Buckeye is white to grayish white, the heartwood is creamy white to pale yellowish-white. My slabs have a lot of gray in them and I think this is from oxidative sap stain, not spalting as I was told. The burl slabs look extremely dense but are actually incredibly light, and they sand like basswood. I would not use oil on them at first, as this would "muddy" the wood. Rather, I had better luck using some sort of sealer or urethane first to hold the interesting colors & figure.
© 2002 by David Mather. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.